Responding to Abuse Toolkit Step #1: Be Prepared

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Safe Church Ministry offers this resource, Responding to Abuse: A Toolkit for Churches. We often hear  from congregations requesting assistance as they face allegations and situations of abuse. We expect that trend to continue as sexual abuse comes out into the open from where it has been hidden and as the #MeToo movement continues to impact the Church. 

Step #1 Be Prepared

Whitney Young Jr. is credited with the saying, “It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.” We may not tend to think of an allegation or disclosure of sexual abuse as an opportunity, yet that’s exactly what it is. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet someone in their place of hurt, shame, and confusion, and then to minister with the Lord’s compassion and justice. In addition, it’s an opportunity for those who have offended to acknowledge the harm they have done, and with God’s help to turn away from abusive ways and learn to relate to others with appropriate dignity and respect. The response of the Church is critical! Churches have sometimes taken a path of least resistance, a path that may lead to further harm.  The path that leads toward restoration and healing is not a quick or easy journey, but one filled with the transforming power of our Lord. The choice is in our hands.

The saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is never more true than in situations of abuse. Safe Church Ministry began as the Office of Abuse Prevention. It’s still true after over 25 years, prevention must be a primary focus of our work. Therefore, step one is be prepared. Our response efforts will always be weak and lacking without this foundation. Our prayer is that in using this toolkit, prevention will become your focus as well.

God is calling us, the Church, to be his people, a blessed community that bears his name and reflects his love, justice, and grace. In doing this, we are also a blessing to the nations. Safe Church Ministry plays  a critical role in living into that calling.

The following biblical themes provide a foundation for safe church ministry.

Genesis 1:26-28 – Created in God’s image — ALL people are created in God’s very image, giving all of us inherent dignity and worth. Abuse destroys God’s image in us.

Philippians 2 – Use of power in abuse — See also Matthew 20:24-26. Misuse of power is at the heart of all kinds of abuse. It is diametrically opposed to the way of Jesus, our redeemer and our example, who used his infinite power in sacrificial love for others, dying on a cross, and empowering others through his Holy Spirit.

  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 — We are One Body, the Body of Christ. When one part hurts, the whole body hurts. We cannot fully live into our calling when we neglect parts of our body that are hurting.
  • Matthew 18:1-14 & Mark 9:33-36,42 – Jesus loves children — Jesus had harsh words for those who would cause little ones to stumble. Children had little value in Jesus’ culture and little more in ours. We shine like stars in the darkness when we make every effort to value, love, and protect our children and those who are vulnerable.
  • Matthew 5:13-16 – Light and salt — we are called to be different from the world around us where disrespect, sexual immorality, abuse, and neglect are common in relationships. In contrast, our Christian communities are called to reflect God’s love and care in the way we value and respect everyone.
  • John 10:1-18 and Ezekiel 34 – The Good Shepherd — We are called to follow Jesus, our Good Shepherd, in contrast to the evil shepherds of Israel who only took care of themselves and not their flock.

Abuse thrives in silence and secrecy, as do so many other sins and hindrances to our faith formation. Efforts toward more openness and transparency are part of establishing a safer, faith-nurturing environment AND preventing abuse. In addition, regular and ongoing education specifically around issues of abuse and relational power dynamics is also necessary. We realize that this doesn’t just happen all by itself; someone needs to pay attention. We recommend a small group of people in each congregation, working together to create a healthy environment where each person is valued and protected. It works even better when these congregational safe church teams are supported by Classis Safe Church Coordinators and a classis safe church core team who can offer consultation and training opportunities in each classis.

A Safe Church Coordinator and team in every classis, supporting a safe church committee or team in each congregation will go a long way toward keeping abuse awareness, prevention, and response a seamless part of our ministry and mission in the Gospel.For more information, about the classis safe church coordinator position, or congregational and classis safe church teams, please see the following: 

Questions to Prayerfully Consider:

  • How specifically could the mission of our church be enhanced by an increased focus on abuse awareness, prevention, and response?
  • Who in our congregation is paying attention to abuse? Who is working to create a safer environment for everyone, so that our church community reflects the love of our Lord?
  • Does our classis have a Safe Church Coordinator to support these efforts? If not, what can we do to make this position a reality in our classis?
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